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Rare Plan of St. Petersburg Proposing An Early Solution to St. Petersburg's Perennial Flooding Issues

Von Wiebeking's plan for St. Petersburg was one of several competing plans proposed for the purpose of addressing the chronic flooding issues in St. Petersburg.  Water was an issue for the new Russian town from the days it was built. The plans of protection of St. Petersburg from floorings are known as early as 1727 (the first proposal for a full city plan for flooding protection was created by Burkhard Christoph von Münnich).  The year 1824 saw a historic devastating flooding of the city with the water level rising over 4 meters higher normal, with 462 houses destroyed and hundreds of people killed in the flooding. This 1824 Saint-Petersburg flooding is immortalized by Alexander Pushkin in his classic 1833 poem “The Bronze Horseman”.

After the 1824 flood, St. Petersburg city officials put out a call to a number of the most important engineers in other parts of Europe, including Parrot, Petrov, Bazaine, Wiebeking etc., seeking proposals to protect the city from the rising waters.  The Russian classic writer Ivan Tourgenev in one of his letters mentions that he met Wiebeking in April 1834 and the engineer told him about his work on the city’s anti-flooding project.

The proposed projects fell mainly in 4 categories depending on the proposed types of protection, including an exotic project of building the walls surrounding each island. All of projects were reviewed by the authorities and were declined mostly because of the high price and technical imperfections. In an 1898 book by Vassily Salov “The historical outline of the St. Petersburg floods and assumptions regarding the protection of the low parts of the city of St. Petersburg from flooding” it is mentioned that the State commission found that Wiebeking’s project was “not supported by either calculations or facts or calculation of the price of the proposed work” and “sea water will nevertheless penetrate the unprotected arms of the Neva river and, raising the water level in the river, it can cause flooding in the city”.

No major changes to protect the city were undertaken until 1890, when another big flood prompted authorities to again address the issue.  The real major anti-flooding system was in the end based on earlier ideas of Pierre-Dominique Bazaine. In late 1960s, the city finally began the construction of a complex of gigantic dams and shipping channels, which was finished 40 years later, in 2011.

Von Wiebeking's plan was likely accompanied by his 1833 pamphlet “Mémoire sur les moyens de mettre St. Petersbourg à l'abri des inondations, et sur l'établissement de deux ports sûrs et commodes devant cette capitale de l'empire de Russie: accompagné d'un plan exact de cette cité et de ses environs”.  The pamphlet's reference to  “un plan exact de cette cité et de ses environs” is most certainly the present “Plan De St. Pétersbourg…


OCLC locates copies of the plan dated 1825 in the Ladesbibliotheque Darmstadt and dated 1833s in the Bayerishe StaatsBibliothek, Bibliotheque National (Strasbourg), Central Library of Zurich.

The Appendix is unknown, but is likely a reprinting of the appendix of the 1833 Memoire pamphlet, revised in 1840. 

A manuscript example of an early state of this map dated 1831 survives in the Bibliotheque National de France:

Carl Friedrich von Wiebeking Biography

Carl Friedrich von Wiebeking (1762-1842) was a German architect, water engineer and surveyor. For many decades, he was one of the leading figures in these fields throughout the German states and the Austrian Empire.

He was born in 1762 into a noble family in Wollin, Pomerania, in the Kingdom of Prussia (today Wolin, Poland). A precocious talent, at only the age of 17, he was selected by the Prussian military leader and cartographer Lieutenant-General W.C.G. von Smettau to be his lead assistant during his project to survey the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1779). Under Smettau's patronage, Wiebeking later went on to conduct trigonometric surveys of large parts of west Prussia and Pomerania, as well as Saxony-Gotha, Saxony-Weimar and Mecklenburg-Schwerin, projects completed by 1786. Notably these were the most advanced surveys of these regions conducted at the time.

In 1788, Wiebeking moved to Düsseldorf to assume the position of Chief Water Engineer for the Duchy of Berg, in the northern Rhineland. The region had suffered greatly due to chronic and severe flooding. Wiebeking worked closely with the engineer Johann Gottfired Tulla to successfully implement systems to contain the Rhine and its tributaries in order to protect the duchy's town and farms that lay along the rivers floodplains. In the process, Wiebeking completed an immense map of the Duchy of Berg, which remained by far the most accurate and detailed map of the region made for many years.

From 1802 to 1805, Wieberking oversaw various engineering projects in the Austrian Empire, in locations ranging from Vienna to Trieste to what is now Croatia. In 1805, he moved to Munich to became Director General of Public Works of the Kingdom of Bavaria, a post he held until 1817. Several roads, bridges, and canals constructed under his supervision dot the Bavarian countryside to this day, and enduring testament to the quality of his work. In his retirement, Wiebeking served as an advisor to the Bavarian Minister, the Graf von Montgelas.

allow unhindered passage for the river boats and in order to be less vulnerable to drift ice and wood. The Bamberg Regnitz Bridge of 1809 was the largest wooden arch bridge of its time with a span of 72 meters.

Begining in 1807 Wiebking was a member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.  Wiebeking maintained contacts with the Russian corps of traffic route engineers for more than thirty years.